In this season when so many people are celebrating love, I can’t help but think of how far we have strayed in our society from the true meaning of it. I’m not just referring to all the attention being given this weekend to a very different twist on affection, but in the general materialistic way in which people have come to approach love and what it means. I have always been a “lover not a fighter,” and have always loved with my whole being. I don’t know how to love any other way. The love God placed in me for the people around me is so big that it is difficult to contain – and that struggle for containment has plagued me for most of my life. A love that is genuine and pure is something that seems to be more and more lacking in our world. We’ve drifted so far from the truth of what love is that we don’t just have shades of grey, but a grey fog of misunderstanding.
So what is true love? It is something that has become almost unrecognizable today, however, the Bible gives us the definition in 1 Corinthians chapter 13. The interesting thing about it is that nowhere does it mention a warm, fuzzy feeling you get when you are attracted to someone. It is all about commitment and action, and involves things that often do not come naturally to us. It isn’t about chocolates and flowers, or special dinners and romance. Are all those things wonderful? Yes. Do they sometimes come out of true love? Of course! But if we use these things as our indicator of whether or not someone truly loves us, then we will find ourselves often disappointed. If we depend on big displays of affection to keep us convinced we are loved, then we are going to spend our lives searching for the next “sign.” If we really want to understand love, then we must look to God’s word for the very base of it. If we do, then we will begin to see what love really means, and the contrast it provides to the superficial nature of what the world has created it to be. We are to love as HE loved. That isn’t always easy, but just because it is difficult doesn’t mean we can tweak it and change it to fit what we think it should be. God IS love, and I’m positive He knows exactly what He is talking about when it comes to the subject. He gives us a complete picture and explanation of it; and He didn’t need 50 shades of anything to get His point across. He, instead, used only 15.
15 Shades of Love
- Love is long-suffering. We don’t use this term much anymore, but it means to have (and show) patience in spite of troubles. It means to endure without complaining. Obviously, this is not something that comes naturally to us. As a matter of fact, we say things like “Don’t pray for patience because you’ll just get trouble in order to teach you!” Patience isn’t just the ability to wait for something, it is the ability to endure provocation, annoyance, trouble or suffering without complaint, irritation or loss of temper. How often can you say you have truly been long-suffering or patient with someone in your life? Oh, we endure things, but we certainly don’t act the way love would in the same situation. Love doesn’t complain. It is simply steady and even-tempered.
- Love is kind. Most of us know what it means to be kind. Being kind means we have a desire to help others that comes from a place in our heart of goodwill. It isn’t about being nice so that people will think highly of us, but rather being good to others even when they do not deserve it.
- Love doesn’t envy. How many times have you seen someone with something that you wanted and it made you feel upset or angry? What about when it’s something you’ve desired and even prayed for over the course of a long time? Do you resent the fact that someone else got it? Are you able to feel truly happy for someone who has been blessed – whether it is materially, in a relationship or on the job – or do you sit back and think about how much you DON’T have? Envy cuts to our heart and leaves us feeling discontent with regard to someone else’s advantages, successes or possessions. Love will never be resentful, but will genuinely be glad for someone else’s blessings.
- Love isn’t inflated with pride. It isn’t constantly saying, “Look how great I am!” When you love someone, you don’t do it so that other people will think you are wonderful. True love doesn’t worry about getting accolades for what it does. It simply does them.
- Love doesn’t act inappropriately. Love isn’t rude or doesn’t act in ways that are insensitive to others. It is well-mannered. So the next time you start to do be rude to someone you claim to love, you might want to step back and think.
- Love doesn’t seek itself or its own desires. It doesn’t insist on having its own way. Do you have a spouse, significant other, family member or friend that you say you love? Do you ever find yourself insisting on doing things your way? It doesn’t have to be an overt or even external push for what you want over what someone else wants. It can also be the tactics we sometimes use to get our way. Maybe it’s the silent treatment or maybe its tears, but it comes from a place of simply wanting what we want. It isn’t easy to look at it that way, but it doesn’t make it any less true.
- Love isn’t easily provoked. How quickly do you find yourself wearing your emotions on your sleeve? Are you touchy? Love is not reactionary. It isn’t easily annoyed or flares up at the slightest irritation.
- Love thinks no evil. Love doesn’t keep track of the evil done to it. It pays no attention to the times when it is mistreated or taken for granted. It doesn’t keep a list of all the things the other person has done so that you can use it in an argument later on.
- Love doesn’t rejoice at injustice or wrong-doing. This sounds like an easy one to say we don’t do, but what about when injustice or wrong-doing happens to someone after they’ve been mean to us? We want people to “get what’s coming to them,” and often rationalize the fact we are happy about the hurt they are experiencing because “they deserved it.” Love never celebrates wrong-doing, no matter how karmic it may feel.
- Love rejoices when truth prevails. Again, this one sounds simple on the surface. Of course love rejoices when truth prevails! Ok, so how about if the truth is painful? Have you ever had someone you love accurately point out one your faults (gently or otherwise)? Did you rejoice over the fact your weaknesses were suddenly out there in the open, or did you get angry and start pointing out their faults? Love rejoices not only when the truth WE want to be revealed is revealed (or wins), but it rejoices when the truth revealed is inconvenient or painful to us.
- Love bears all things. It holds up under all things that come. Bearing something means to carry it. Love is strong! No matter what happens, genuine love remains steady and carries the weight. When someone we love is hurt or sick, love gives us the strength to take care of them. It holds up under the pains of life that come to all of us. It also bears the weight of the hurt we feel when we are not loved the way we think we should be. It continues to stand strong through hurt feelings or terrible circumstances.
- Love believes all things. This doesn’t mean love is stupid. It means it is ever ready to believe the best in someone. Love isn’t cynical. Love chooses to always look for the best in a person, to believe the good things in them because every person has redeeming qualities. Love looks for the redemption and not the condemnation in a person. Love doesn’t listen to gossip and it doesn’t take part in tearing someone else down. Love continually works to build people up. It points out what is right with them instead of what is wrong with them. Instead of constantly looking at all the ways someone we love lets us down, it searches for the things he/she does FOR us. It believes the best in someone always.
- Love hopes all things. In other words, its hope never fades – even under the worst circumstances. This kind of goes hand in hand with believing all things. Hope is an expectation, not a wish. Love expects things to turn out for the best. It looks forward to the future with desire and reasonable confidence that it is going to be not only okay, but good! It doesn’t look ahead in time and start looking at all the ways things are going to come apart. It doesn’t say things like, “That just won’t work,” or “there’s no way to do that.” Love is an optimist! Love is not depressed. It looks ahead with great confidence that everything is going to be well, no matter what the current circumstances may look or feel like.
- Love endures all things. It does so without weakening. Love is steady and enduring, no matter how the storm rages or the wind blows. Love doesn’t run the moment things get difficult. It will continue to stand through disagreements and hurt feelings. It will continue to stand when things go wrong. When there is illness, financial loss, material loss, it still holds up under it. When the people around you let you down, it still stands. When you’ve been hurt, it’s still there.
- Love never fails. It doesn’t give up. No matter what happens in life, genuine love never gives up, because it can’t! It is something that weaves its way into our spiritual dna and is impossible to remove. If you truly have love for another person, it never fades or goes away. Because we are human, hurts will happen. We hurt others and they hurt us. Sometimes we will encounter situations where we must remove ourselves from a situation that has become unhealthy for us, but that doesn’t mean we stop loving the person…because love isn’t about feelings. Love continues to do all the things listed above – even when we are no longer able to be with someone in any type of earthly relationship. Love desires reconciliation, but knows how to continue without it. We may never enjoy close fellowship with them again, but it doesn’t mean we walk away internally. I know this sounds controversial and maybe even abusive to say love never lets go, but it is the truth. Love – a true and pure divine love for another person – transcends everything on this earth, including our own comprehension. It reaches beyond our reasoning and allows us to continue loving, in spite of how we have been treated. It stays.
This is how God loves us! Love is so much deeper than what most people consider it to be. When you read the aspects of what true love is, you finally understand that love is not a feeling! Love requires action. It requires sacrifice. It requires commitment and most of the time we all fail to live and love as God loves because we continue to prefer the grey over the white light of the truth.
Truth isn’t always easy. It reveals us as we are and that sometimes reveals shortcomings we’d rather not face. When it comes to love, there is another aspect we seldom discuss. God tells us in His word that we are to love our enemies. Say what?! Not only are we, as people of faith, instructed to love our enemies, but He goes on to emphasize the point in Matthew 5:43-48 and says “So what if you love people who love you and treat you well. That’s nothing special. Even the most corrupt people in society do that.” I love that God doesn’t pull any punches and just calls it as it is. But how in the world is that even possible? How can I love someone I don’t like or doesn’t deserve it? We can do it by remembering first what love is and then how God loves US that way even though WE don’t deserve it. When you realize that love isn’t about what you feel, but what you decide, things become much clearer. Knowing what love is, frees us to live in ways that can change the world. It empowers us to love more deeply because we can choose to do so in spite of our feelings.
So the next time we say we love someone, maybe we need to stop and think about what that really means. Before we make that promise by saying the words out loud, we need to be sure we are willing to actually get out of the grey and truly live in the light of love’s truth..